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Spatializing Enlightened Civilization in the Era of Translating Vernacular Modernity: Colonial Vietnamese Intellectuals’ Adventure Tales and Travelogues, 1910s–1920s

  • Yufen Chang (a1)

This article examines the strategy of literary spatialization employed by colonial subjects to imaginatively engage with colonial civilizing projects. It analyzes twelve adventure stories written between the 1910s and 1920s by colonial Vietnamese reformed scholars, whose lives were impacted by the pan-Asian reform movements that swept Japan, China, and Vietnam between the 1860s and 1900s. They reflected their experiences with Enlightened civilization as they were pushing for vernacularization and modernization through translating the Chinese transculturation of Japanese texts into Latin-based quốc ngữ script while constructing a national literature. Adventure tales and travelogues were considered suitable for aspiring writers to translatively imitate Western literature as presented in Chinese translation of Japanese texts. The authors negotiated with the French version of Enlightened Civilization by employing two East Asian literary tropes: the dangerous but exciting Rivers-and-Lakes World, where the protagonist ventures to search for văn minh, and the peaceful and other-worldly Peach Blossom Spring utopia, where the true qualities of văn minh are realized. These stories reveal colonial subjects’ admiration for and anxiety regarding the French mission civilisatrice, and their literary efforts to imagine a Vietnamese văn minh that would both impress and surpass the original models.

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